Child Exploitation Awareness

Written by APHP

July 24, 2023

Child sexual exploitation awareness day

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) awareness day aims to raise awareness of the different elements to CSE and to encourage people to think about it, spot the signs and speak out by reporting it to support a zero tolerance approach to such a damaging form of sexual abuse.

Child sexual exploitation involves the manipulation of young people under the age of 18 and the coercion to engage them into sexual activity.

CSE takes many forms and it’s useful as therapists to be able to know about these and how to spot the signs of a child who is being sexually exploited (STOPCE, 2022).

  • Sexual exploitation and young men – sadly this is often overlooked and a lot of the time, the young man’s behaviour is criminalised and he ends up being seen as the perpetrator in the situation. Unfortunately, this causes an unhelpful cycle of young men not reporting that they have been sexually exploited due to either the fear of facing criminal charges or through the shame it induces.
  • Sexual exploitation and trafficking – children are being trafficked into, out of and within the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation and this is a lucrative business for those involved as the traffickers. Young people are seen as a source of income and therefore can still be at risk even if they are removed from their situation by protection agencies.
  • Sexual exploitation and families – when a child is a victim of sexual exploitation, the whole family is affected by this. Knowing that your child has been a victim of paedophilia, used for pornography, worked as a prostitute or been a victim of trafficking is something that causes psychological implications for parents.  It can lead to a breakdown of the parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs proactively.
  • Sexual exploitation and missing children – it is estimated that out of the 250,000 missing persons reports that the Police receive each year, that 140,000 are children. Research has shown that sexual exploitation is inextricably linked to missing children as either a cause of a consequence.  A child can be missing as a result of sexual exploitation or be at risk of it once they have gone missing.

Who is at risk?

Children and young people are most risk of being sexually exploited are:
Have low self-esteem
Had a recent bereavement or loss so feeling vulnerable
In care
Young carer

Signs of sexual exploitation

Any changes in a child should be monitored to assess the cause.  Most children and young people go through changes in their lives caused by life changes, hormone changes or events that they have experienced.  This does not mean that every child is being sexually exploited but it is useful to know the key signs to look out for, especially if more than one of these are present (NHS, 2021).

Going missing often or for a long period of time
Skipping school
Unexplained gifts or money
Sexually transmitted infections
Mood or behaviour changes
Drug or alcohol use
Displaying inappropriate sexual behaviour
Increased screen time and use of new sites or chat facilities
Unexplained physical harm

It is also worth noting that taking the age of the child into account when assessing the above signs can help to identify sexual exploitation even quicker.  For example, a young child displaying sexualised behaviour is a red flag that needs investigating.

What can we do if we recognise signs of sexual exploitation?

As therapists we have a duty of care to our clients to ensure we offer the best service in their best interests. Although as it currently stands, therapists only have to legally report issues surrounding terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering, with no legal requirement to report child abuse, many therapists decide upon including that in their contracts as a reason to break confidentiality.  There is a difference between legal requirements and a moral or ethical consideration and many therapists take this stance then it comes to child sexual abuse.

Therapists may need to consult their supervisors in order to have some support in the decision making regarding reporting child sexual abuse.  There will be many things to consider in order to make sure the right and relevant people are informed to ensure that the child is not put at any more risk.

We hope this blog has given you more insight into the different forms of child sexual exploitation and has highlighted the signs to look out for to keep children safe.

Best wishes



Curious Counselling & Psychotherapy 


STOPCE (2022) online at

NHS (2021) online at

Further reading




Published : Jul 24, 2023